I am burying another dear friend today. He died and has now entered into whatever comes next. Speculation aside, we don't know. We trust it to God.
The Gospel is controversial. It is John 14:1-6, which is probably one of the more popular texts. I know it is controversial because it centers on Jesus being the way. When President Ford died he was buried with an Episcopal. This was the Gospel that was used. Well, sort of... At the reading of the Gospel it ended one verse early. No one heard Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except Me.'
No one? Surely there are lots of good people who have never heard of Jesus who are worthy of heaven, right? That sort of thinking do doubt motivated the decision to cut out the verse. (I assume) It is in the lectionary so it should be read.
Is Jesus the only way? Certainly that is a key theme of the New Testament. And certainly there are specific statements that make it seem undeniable. Of course, a close reading of the entire Book provides us with some reason to think that the net may be wider (when Jesus talks about the Judgement of the Gentiles/Nations in Matthew, for example, He indicates that how they treated the poor, thirsty, hungry, etc. is the criteria). My opinion is that God does not need our input on who is in and who is out. I do grow weary of the "I-am-saved-because-I-know-Jesus-and-you-are-going-to-hell" crowd. There are times when I think that they need to hear the incongruity of constantly harping on Jesus' love and Jesus' willingness to burn people eternally who never heard of Him.
However, the universalist who ignores Jesus (especially Bishops and priests!) also frustrate me. Those who say "Jesus is my way" and ignore His words are phonies. They pretend that Jesus is a personal magic charm and not The Lord.... But no sense going on a rampage, I will leave it at that.
SO what do I think the words mean?
Jesus IS God incarnate, the Word made flesh.
Jesus is the Anointed King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Jesus is the creator, redeemer and purpose of all things, because Jesus is the Image of the Invisible God.
None of that is my own creative thought, it all comes from the Scriptures.
Now the Scriptures may not be true. If so Jesus is not Who I believe He is. But the Scriptures make it clear Who Jesus is. So I believe.
Because Jesus is God, because He is One with the Father it is logical to say "no one can come to the Father without Jesus." How could they? He is the only bridge over the gap between Creator and created, Heaven and Earth.
What about all those people with different religions? Well, the Creator/Creative Word permeates all creation. Jesus comes anonymously in some quarters. This is an ancient idea, dating back to the church father Justin Martyr (guess why he died?) Justin was one of the earliest apologists and a man of philosophical training who came to Christ in the time span of 100-150. He said Jesus is everywhere. He said Jesus is finding a way to save all He can. (God's will is that all be saved after all)
So, I know already what others will find out. I know now what the non-Christian will discover after life ends. Jesus is The Way, The Truth and the Life. But I think they will realize that when they see Him. I think they will have an "ah ha" moment where everything comes clear. "O, it was YOU after all," they will say to Him, as they ponder their own journey of faith.
And to those who say if you do not know Jesus then you cannot go to heaven; a word of caution; no one really knows Jesus. We all, even devout followers, tend to recreate Him according to our own desires. All of us have much to learn about Jesus (even if we already know much). So be careful about drawing lines, you may be on the wrong side.